|Chicago is a special place for music, the tradition is strong. It might reasonably be expected to be intimidating for visitors from out of town, but the warmth and appreciativeness of the audience made the Unity Temple concert a special occasion and the notes seemed to flow.
Before this concert Georg and I had played in duo just once before, at the 1991 October Meeting at the BIMhuis in Amsterdam. From that short set I had the feeling that we would play a longer concert together sooner or later. Here it is and I hope it’s not the last.
- Evan Parker, London, March 1999
Reviews It’s never easy with Evan Parker. No one demands more of audiences and fellow musicians than this uncompromising saxophonist does. Unity Variations documents a 1998 concert by the improvising duo of Parker and pianist Georg Gräwe. Parker, who alternates tenor and soprano saxophones, operates in one of his most abstract and rigorous modes. He starts with a simple theme, then reiterates and embellishes it, ultimately breaking it down and expanding the component parts. The four improvisations reminded me of Coltrane’s Ascension, but with just two musicians at work. Parker’s deconstructions seem likely to polarize an audience into two camps: those dedicated to listening carefully as Parker follows the process, and those who feel alienated and shut out.
Blending Parker’s elliptical phrasing with piano can be a challenge. Gräwe is a creative, highly energetic player who should be better known, but he’s not an optimal partner for Parker. He initially tries to align himself with Parker’s variations through unceasing volleys of notes, but the effect becomes a little claustrophobic. Gräwe plays with increasing confidence as the set progresses, achieving a real symbiosis with the soprano saxophone of the exhilariting “Unity Variations 2”.
Parker plays the tenor saxophone about twice as long as the soprano horn. I would have reversed the ratio, preferring to hear more from the soprano sax, his most compelling voice.
Unity Variations may not be an ideal introduction to Parker’s explorations, but will reward the listener’s patience and close attention. (three and a half stars)
— Jon Andrews, Down Beat, September 1999